Maggie's Mission Holds 'Wonderful' Centerport Gala For Pediatric Cancer Research

June 28, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

CENTERPORT, NY — Maggie’s Mission raised $120K for pediatric cancer research and financial aid for families facing the cancer diagnosis of a child at its “Seven in Heaven Angelversary Gala” held on May 31 at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport.

The gala was held in memory of Maggie Schmidt, a local Harborfields student who died of malignant rhabdoid tumors on June 1, 2017. She was 17.

Maggie’s Mission was founded by her parents, Donna and Steve Schmidt. Maggie’s Mission has been funding cancer research and helping families in need since 2017.

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“I think it was a wonderful event,” Donna told Patch. “I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

MMEink, the caterer, was “phenomenal” and did a “fantastic job with the food,” Donna said. The DJ, live band that played at cocktail hour and LED light-up dancing robots were all a big hit.

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The Coachella-themed gala plays on Maggie’s love of music.

“She was a huge fan of music,” Donna said. “She listened to music before she got sick and during her illness. This Coachella theme was really nice and harkened back to her, like everything Maggie’s Mission does.”

Click here to read a Q&A and learn more about Maggie’s Mission.

Guests being asked to wear white also harks back to when Maggie was a bridesmaid in her Uncle Michael and Aunt Alicia’s wedding. The gala is held under a tent near the water.

“I know Maggie was there in spirit and dancing with us,” Donna said.

Since Maggie’s Mission was founded, the organization has raised nearly $2.5 million. Donna said she is excited to get closer to $3 million.

Maggie’s Mission funds malignant rhabdoid tumor research at Memorial Sloan Kettering primarily, with some funds having gone to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well. The charity also provides financial aid to families who have a child fighting cancer. Other funds are used to provide meals at the Ronald McDonald House-New York and Memorial Sloan Kettering Food Pantry, as well as scholarships to Harborfields students.

Ten families who have a child fighting cancer attended the Angelversary Gala, including a mother and father who lost their son less than two years ago to DIPG cancer, which carries a 100 percent mortality rate.

Donna said it was “really emotional.”

“It felt really beautiful to connect with them at the event and just talk,” Donna said. “There were a lot of pediatric cancer families who came and had a really great time. It’s definitely a party vibe at our event. There were quite a few families affected by pediatric cancer out there on the dance floor living a good life and having fun, even though they’re in the thick of it.”

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Donna is always planning galas and events that represent who Maggie was. Next year’s gala is called “A Trip to the Pyramids.” It is scheduled for May 30, 2025, once again at the Vanderbilt Museum. Visiting the pyramids was on Maggie’s bucket list.

Donna said sponsors have approached Maggie’s Mission and said they want to take on a larger role with the gala next year, which she said she is “super excited for.” She is also thinking about opening the gala to all children next year. Her 2-and-a-half-year-old nephew attended this past gala and had a blast, she said.

“People on our board had young children who wanted to come so badly,” Donna said. “I’m like, ‘It should be open to kids!'”

Maggie’s Mission is supporting Memorial Sloan Kettering’s research project that features Maggie’s own tumors. Doctors Alex Kentsis and Yaniv Kazansky are using Maggie’s cells to try and save the lives of future malignant rhabdoid tumor patients.

Kazansky attended his first Maggie’s Mission gala and wrote what Donna called a “beautiful email” that she shared with Patch.

“It was my sincere honor and pleasure to meet you and take part in the Seven in Heaven Angelversary last week,” Kazansky wrote to Donna and Steve. “Learning about Maggie’s story and meeting you was especially moving for me given the privilege I have had for the past four years of working with Alex on new therapeutic approaches for this terrible disease.”

Kazansky and Kentsis’s research involves them studying samples of patient tumors stored at Memorial Sloan Kettering in order to try to uncover why some responded to the drug tazemetostat while others did not. Maggie’s samples were among the first that Kazansky analyzed, he said, and among those referenced in their recent study.

“Even seven years after her treatment, she helped us move the field forward,” Kazansky said. “On a more personal note, the chance to work with these samples, and more generally, the chance to work on such an important question for far too many children with cancer, has been an indescribable honor, and would not have been possible without your support. Learning more about Maggie — about her energy, her love of life, and her remarkable family — has brought an irreplaceable warmth and humanity to the science we do.”

Maggie’s Mission continues to work on organizing community events. Some include the Maggie’s Sunset 4K scheduled for Sept. 28 at Sunken Meadow State Park, as well as school fundraisers.

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